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not entertain the same views as the committee......and purchase a far inferior production ;'* &c. &c.
To this there is a twofold answer. First, that the value of the objection depends upon that peculiarity in the constitution of the first Edinburgh association, which limits the selection to a particular exhibition; and secondly, that even under such circumstances it would be no very serious evil that a private buyer should anticipate a public association in the purchase of a good picture. That many good pictures leave our exhibitions unsold, and that a greater number of good pictures would be produced were the market for them extended, are the essential facts on which the claims of such associations to public support are mainly founded.
It has also been said, that since the plan of purchase 2. Compo
isition of by a committee is general amongst the continental theo associations, it is to be presumed that it works well in ing com
mittee. practice; but it ought to be remembered that these committees are very differently constituted from those in Great Britain, inasmuch as they are composed, not of amateurs only but also of artists, and consequently include a far greater amount of the knowledge necessary to a wise selection.
Amongst ourselves there is a strong prejudice against allowing artists to take part in the management of institutions, such as those now under review. It seems to be feared that such participation would lead to the indulgence of professional partialities and jealousies, and thus work injustice. But it can scarcely be denied that the exclusion tends greatly to narrow the efficiency of these committees upon all matters of taste.
And, on the other hand, if it shall be found that the plan of committing the selection to the individual prize
* Fifth Report, 1839; p. 6.
holders is far better than that of intrusting it to a committee, it is difficult to perceive what reason will remain for excluding artists from the management of such institutions. Their special knowledge, although no longer required for the discharge of this particular function, will still have many and important opportunities for its exercise.
3. Engrav- The plan of annually engraving a picture, exclusively ing.
for the members, has become a very popular feature in the Art-Unions, and is now almost universal amongst them. It will always be a great means of promoting and ensuring their financial prosperity, but it ought not to rest there: for if the engravings thus issued do not become a means of elevating the taste of their possessors, they will infallibly tend to degrade it.
The prints hitherto issued by these associations in Great Britain have, in most cases, possessed but little to recommend them as works of art. Even when cleverly executed, like those of the Art-Union of London,* their subjects have not been of a lofty, or even of a very interesting character. Nor is this likely to be the case, so long as the choice of the subject is confined to the pictures actually purchased by the association itself. Either this limitation ought to be abandoned, or the rule respecting the selection of pictures should be modified by fixing on the committee the responsibility of selecting one picture, expressly for engraving.
For my own part, I think the former course preferable.
* A Camaldolese monk showing the relics of his convent, by W. Giller, after a picture by W. Simson; and A river scene in Devonshire, by D. Lucas, after a picture by F. R. Lee, R.A. The best print of this kind which has yet appeared is Mr. Robert Graves's admirable line-engraving, after a picture by William Harvey, S.A.— The trial of Shakspere, which has been already mentioned.
The limitation was inconsiderately adopted, and I know not that it answers any valuable purpose. It has been mentioned that the plan of the Society 4. Reserve
fund for for the encouragement of British Art included the the e reservation of ten per cent. upon the amount of its ragement
of historisubscriptions as an accumulating fund for the encou- cal and reragement of the higher branches of art, and that the ligious art. small success which this society met with (apparently from causes already stated) made this provision inoperative. It has also been mentioned that a similar provision is very general amongst the continental associations, and has been productive of much good. This excellent feature, thus recommended by experience, has not yet, however, been imitated, either by the Scottish societies or by the Art-Union of London, although the fast-increasing means of all these institutions would now fully warrant the measure.
Until this be done the capabilities of these associations to promote the love and progress of the arts will never be fully developed: and they will remain open to the objection, that—at least, as to their direct effects
they tend rather to encourage mediocrity than to assist the efforts of genius.
By the adoption of this feature—whether by means of purchases or of commissions, or by both-not only would all such objections be answered, and a valuable impulse be given to those branches of the arts which peculiarly stand in need of encouragement, but a step might also be made towards the re-obtainment of that liberal employment of the arts for public, and especially for religious purposes, without which they never have attained, and never will attain, their highest and worthiest excellence.
In addition to the modifications which I have suggested, I think there are one or two other matters in
respect of which the Art-Unions might be improved.
Other as- The “ British Institution for promoting the Fine
Arts in the United Kingdom" was founded in 1805. courage ... It proposed to afford a gallery for the exhibition and ment of the arts.—Bri- sale of the works of living artists; to form a school of tish Insti
painting for the study of the old masters; to offer pretution.
miums for the best original pictures, and occasionally to obtain such by purchase.
For many years its proceedings were characterized by considerable energy. It presented several fine pictures to the National Gallery, including works both of the old masters and of living artists. It gave many premiums, and it greatly promoted the sale of pictures from its exhibition,—an object, in respect of which, the exhibition of the Royal Academy had been almost wholly inoperative, as far as regarded non-members.
But for some years past this energy has apparently ceased to be put forth. The premiums have been dis
• These societies already possess an excellent medium of communi. cation, in the monthly periodical called “The Art-Union,” under the able management of Mr. S. C. Hall.
+ Amongst them a premium of 200 guineas to Martin for his picture of “ Belshazzar's feast,” and another of 100 guineas to the same artist for “ Joshua commanding the sun to stand still.” Mr. Martin stated before the committee on arts and manufactures that to this institution, during the earlier period of its existence, he considered himself indebted for “the major part of his success,” but that of late he felt himself almost wholly excluded from it on account, as he conceived, of the predominant influence which the Royal Academy bad acquired over the Board of Directors. See 2d Report on Arts and Manufactures, $ 842–901.
continued; pictures have ceased to be purchased; the character of the exhibitions has greatly deteriorated, -the best places having been given to pictures previously exhibited at the Royal Academy; and even portraits, although nominally excluded, having been admitted under fictitious names, and this, notwithstanding the frequent announcement that many pictures had been returned for want of room, both in number and in value.* The contributions to the school of painting have also fallen off.
The natural consequence of this retrogression has been great dissatisfaction upon the part both of artists and of that portion of the public which takes an interest in the real progress of the arts. It has been attributed to that too common bane of our public institutions of this nature, the substitution in its practical management of persons wholly irresponsible, in the place of the nominal directors,ấmen of high station and character, but many of them, as in so many similar cases, much burthened with other and weightier duties. In particular, it has been confidently and repeatedly asserted that the Royal Academy exerts an undue influence over the Institution, especially as regards the exhibition, t-an assertion but too much countenanced by the appearance of the walls for several seasons past. This alleged influence is objectionable, be it remembered, not because it is the influence of artists or of academicians, but because it is indirect and unacknowledged, and therefore, irresponsible.
* It is highly desirable that in future exhibitions of the old masters, greater care be taken to exclude works of doubtful authenticity. There is reason to fear that dealers have, in several recent instances, profited by these exbibitions to obtain a fictitious credit for very suspicious claims.
+ On this point see the evidence of Mr. Martin, referred to in the previous note; and also that of Mr. T. C. Hofland, in the same Report, $ 1249.